Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reasons: A New Year’s Eve Reflection

     “Reflection, rumination, regurgitation...what’s the difference?” I hear you cry. Well, there’s a difference in my mind, at least: I ruminate when pondering some involute abstract question that might not have been applicable to anything in my past. I reflect when some element of my past causes me to wonder how I could have been quite so blind.

     (I regurgitate when compelled to read the ravings of some leftist lunatic who in earlier days would have walked the streets in sackcloth and ashes while toting a sign that says “REPENT, THE END IS NEAR.” Which is why I try to stay clear of such persons.)

     After reading The Pursuit of Goodness, Sarah Hoyt’s piece of yesterday, I got to thinking furiously about a problem that few persons address and even fewer apply to their own decision making. The part that started my mental cascade was simple and brief:

     The problem is most people want to be good. They want to fit whatever the society admires.

     My first reaction was that those two sentences don’t necessarily apply to the same groups of people. I’d have written something more like this:

     Many people strive to be good. Many others want to fit whatever their society admires.

     “Goodness,” of course, implies a standard for individual conduct which the individual has chosen to accept. But “what society admires” has no necessary connection to it. These days, standards of goodness don’t seem to have much to do with what society admires.

     What of the man who falls into both groups? He wants to be good, but he also wants to be admired by others. What if the two desiderata are irremediably opposed?

     There’s an obvious tug-of-war effect inside such a man. Depending on how he chooses to resolve it, it could torment him lifelong. But that tug-of-war is merely the microscale version of the larger phenomenon afflicting his society.

     Further progress into the thing requires an examination of where a standard of goodness must originate.

     How does a society arrive at a standard of goodness? Surely there’s no Goodness Steering Committee to examine proposals and choose among them according to the current context. At least, no such has ever solicited me for my opinion...or my tax-deductible contribution.

     In contrast, many organizations have asked me for money to serve some end that’s widely if not universally deemed good. I’m sure your experiences have been comparable. But the good, as a conception, precedes the organization, its operations, and its pleas. If it were otherwise, there would be no basis for it.

     Time was, conceptions of good were regarded as the proper domain of clerics and philosophers. Nineteenth-Century writers on social theory struggled over this, for they understood, not always consciously, that without a conception of good agreed to by nearly all its members no society can endure. However, they also understood, consciously this time, that “the good” cannot be prescribed in an authoritarian fashion. John Stuart Mill noted that were we to arrive at a provably correct conception of “the good,” our polity would have a moral obligation to impose it by force on all of us. He regarded that as a reason to be grateful that no provable conception of “the good” had emerged. Most of his colleagues agreed.

     They were brilliant men, all of them: men with powerful intellects and wide, strong bases of knowledge. Many of them were also regarded as moral paragons, though in some cases the disclosures of later years altered those evaluations. But on this subject they had their hats on backward.

     The key insight that makes it possible to grapple constructively with “the good,” with moral systems, and with their relevance to the societies that adopt or reject them eluded Mill and the great majority of his contemporaries. Indeed, it eludes most thinkers of today.

No mortal agency is responsible for determining “the good.”

     “The good” is revealed to us by the consequences of our decisions and actions (or inactions). “The good,” if determined with fair accuracy and granted a high degree of “buy-in,” produces a stable, prosperous, and happy society. However, this is not a permanent, guaranteed never to tarnish state of grace. It depends upon the preservation of the standard: the maintenance of “the good” as “the good,” and the persistent allegiance to it by the overwhelming majority. Should those conditions fail, so will that society.

     While I’ll allow that “the good” varies among individuals in its finest particulars, I maintain that the overarching precepts that constitute “the good” are absolute, universal, and well verified by the experiences of Man’s societies – all of them. And just in case you were wondering about them, here they are:

     And behold one came and said to him: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? Who said to him: Why asketh thou me concerning good? One is good, God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He said to him: Which? And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [Matthew 19:16-19]

     If those precepts are strictly observed by 98% or more of a society – this is my empirical estimate, though the percent of compliance required might be even higher – without weasel-wording to create exceptions or chiseling around the edges to serve some supposed “need,” that society will flourish. Individual decisions within the moral-ethical envelope thus created are (and should be) free, though not from their consequences.

     But societies whose members don’t accept Christ’s authority to pronounce those precepts must acquire them by another method: the method of trial and error. Unfortunately, under that procedure, the errors are fatal more often than not.

     Now comes the part you’ve been waiting for: the linkage of this interminable ramble with its title and opening sections. Generically, there are only two possible reasons for doing anything:

  • Teleological: “It will get me something I want.”
  • Moral-Ethical: “It’s the right and proper thing to do.”

     Tragedy of a singularly painful sort can arise when one makes a decision on teleological grounds when the subject belongs in the moral-ethical category. Moreover, it matters less that it’s “the right decision” than that it was made for a bad reason.

     For one last time in this Year of Our Lord 2017, let’s confront our old friend Smith. Let’s imagine that Smith faces a moral-ethical decision: the sort that is properly addressed from one of the precepts Christ stated. Maybe it’s whether or not to try steal some tempting item. If Smith is familiar with the precept Thou shalt not steal, and holds to it, he’ll pass the temptation by for the right reason. But let’s imagine that whether or not Smith is familiar with the precept, his priority is teleological. What possible courses radiate from the temptation he faces?

  1. He could attempt the theft and be caught.
  2. He could attempt the theft and be successful.
  3. He could pass the temptation by.

     Those courses will have different weights according to circumstances, Smith’s desire for the item in question, his desire for the admiration of others, and what those others admire.

     If Smith’s immediate society – i.e., “his fellows,” the aggregate of persons whose good opinion he values most – admire a successful thief, he’ll choose either Course 1 or Course 2. However, if Smith’s fellows hold to the moral-ethical precept Thou shalt not steal, he faces a different value set:

  • If he desires the item more than social acceptance, he will attempt the theft.
  • If he desires acceptance more than the item, he will refrain from the theft and then let everyone know that he could have gotten away with it.

     That’s a unique kind of moral hazard: the temptation to “do the right thing for the wrong reason.” Over time, “the right thing” and the context around it will change in unpredictable ways, for “time and chance happeneth to us all.” So will the opinions of the persons whose good opinion we desire. If we set being admired above other priorities, we have surrendered our wills to the whims of others; we have willingly become slaves of fad and fashion. As there are always persons who seek to set the current fashion according to their own priorities, the odds are good that we will find our wills subordinated to those of the very worst men among us.

     The desire for the admiration of others, including others who despise us, can be a powerful attractant. In a society of “individuals” who prefer conformity to “what society admires” over other considerations, the moral-ethical precepts that support a healthy, prosperous society are doomed to fall by the wayside.

     “Come in,” said Dimble in his rooms at Northumberland. “Oh, it’s you, Studdock,” he added as the door opened. “Come in.”
     “I’ve come to ask about Jane,” said Mark. “Do you know where she is ?”
     “I can’t give you her address, I’m afraid,” said Dimble.
     “Do you mean you don’t know it? “
     “I can’t give it,” said Dimble.
     According to Mark’s programme this was the point at which he should have begun to take a strong line. But he did not feel the same now that he was in the room. Dimble had always treated him with scrupulous politeness, and Mark had always felt that Dimble disliked him. This had not made him dislike Dimble. It had only made him uneasily talkative in Dimble’s presence and anxious to please. Vindictiveness was by no means one of Mark’s vices. For Mark liked to be liked. A snub sent him away dreaming not of revenge but of brilliant jokes or achievements which would one day conquer the good will of the man who had snubbed him. If he were ever cruel it would be downwards, to inferiors and outsiders who solicited his regard, not upwards to those who rejected it. There was a good deal of the spaniel in him.

     (C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength)

     In a book filled with innumerable insights and wisdoms, here lies one of the most powerful. Mark Studdock is in trouble of several kinds. A great part of it proceeds from his entry into the N.I.C.E., an evil conspiracy that marches behind a veneer of “science” in the name of “progress.” He was drawn ever deeper into that morass by his desire for the admiration and acceptance of its Inner Ring. Yet it becomes ever clearer as the story goes on that they hold him in contempt: an instrument to be used to further their ends, and otherwise of little or no value. His enslavement to them is no less binding for that; in that state they could get him to do anything they might imagine, and they know it.

     Yet in the subsequent passage, Mark’s desire for Dimble’s good opinion begins to provide a counterweight. He learns from Dimble that the N.I.C.E. has abused his wife and that Dimble identifies Mark with Jane’s torturers, and the dynamic in the room changes:

     “This is fantastic,” said Mark. “Even if I do happen to hold a job in the N.I.C.E. for the moment, you know me.
     “I do not know you,” said Dimble. “I have no conception of your aims or motives.”
     He seemed to Mark to be looking at him not with anger or contempt but with that degree of loathing which produces in those who feel it a kind of embarrassment. In reality Dimble was simply trying very hard not to hate, not to despise, and he had no idea of the fixed severity which this effort gave to his face.
     “There has been some ridiculous mistake,” said Mark. “I'll make a row. I suppose some newly enrolled policeman got drunk or something. Well, he'll be broken. I—”
     “It was the chief of your police, Miss Hardcastle herself, who did it.”
     “Very well. I'll break her then. Did you suppose I was going to take it lying down? But there must be some mistake. It can’t...”      “Do you know Miss Hardcastle well?” asked Dimble. Mark thought that Dimble was reading his mind to the bottom and seeing there his certainty that Miss Hardcastle had done this very thing and that he had no more power of calling Miss Hardcastle to account than of stopping the revolution of the Earth.
     Suddenly the immobility of Dimble's face changed, and he spoke in a new voice. “Have you the means to bring her to book?” he said. “Are you already as near the centre of Belbury as that? If so, then you have consented to the murder of Hingest, the murder of Compton. If so, it was by your orders that Mary Prescott was raped and battered to death in the sheds behind the station. It is with your approval that criminals—honest criminals whose hands you are unfit to touch—are being taken from the jails to which British judges sent them and packed off to Belbury to undergo for an indefinite period, out of reach of the law, whatever tortures and assaults on personal identity you call Remedial Treatment. It is you who have driven two thousand families from their homes to die of exposure in every ditch from here to Birmingham or Worcester. It is you who can tell us why Place and Rowley and Cunningham (at eighty years of age) have been arrested, and where they are. And if you are as deeply in it as that, not only will I not deliver Jane into your hands, but I would not deliver my dog.”
     “Really—really,” said Mark. “This is absurd. I know one or two high-handed things have been done. You always get some of the wrong sort in a police force—specially at first. But—I mean to say—what have I ever done that you should make me responsible for every action that any N.I.C.E. official has taken—or is said to have taken in the gutter press?”
     “Gutter press!” thundered Dimble, who seemed to Mark to be even physically larger than he was a few minutes before. “What nonsense is this ? Do you suppose I don't know that you have control of every paper in the country except one? And that one has not appeared this morning. Its printers have gone on strike. The poor dupes say they will not print articles attacking the people’s Institute. Where the lies in all other papers come from you know better than I.”
     It may seem strange to say that Mark, having long lived in a world without charity, had nevertheless seldom met anger. Malice in plenty he had encountered, but it all operated by snubs and sneers and stabbing in the back. The forehead and eyes and voice of this elderly man had an effect on him which was stifling and unnerving. At Belbury one used the words “whining” and “yapping” to describe any opposition which Belbury aroused in the outer world. And Mark had never had enough imagination to realise what the whining would really be like if you met it face to face.
     “I tell you I knew nothing about it,” he shouted. “Damn it, I’m the injured party. The way you talk, anyone would think it was your wife who’d been ill-treated.” “So it might have been. So it may be. It may be any man or woman in England. It was a woman and a citizen. What does it matter whose wife it was?” “But I tell you I'll raise hell about it. I'll break the infernal bitch who did it, if it means breaking the whole N.I.C.E.”
     He knew that Dimble knew that he was now talking nonsense. Yet Mark could not stop. If he did not bluster, he would not know what to say.
     “Sooner than put up with this,” he shouted, “I'll leave the N.I.C.E.”
     “Do you mean that?” asked Dimble with a sharp glance. To Mark, whose ideas were all one fluid confusion of wounded vanity and jostling fears and shames, this glance once more appeared accusing and intolerable. In reality, it had been a glance of awakened hope: for charity hopes all things. But there was caution in it; and between hope and caution Dimble found himself once more reduced to silence.
     “I see you don't trust me,” said Mark, instinctively summoning to his face the manly and injured expression which had often served him well in headmasters’ studies..
     Dimble was a truthful man. “No,” he said after a longish pause. “I don't quite.”

     Mark pleads for an hour to “think it over.” Once out of Dimble’s immediate presence he begins to sway back toward his earlier association with the N.I.C.E. and its Inner Ring of power-brokers. And to his mind absolutely nothing is his fault:

     Mark had said he wanted to think: in reality he wanted alcohol and tobacco. He had thoughts in plenty—more than he desired. One thought prompted him to cling to Dimble as a lost child clings to a grown-up. Another whispered to him, “Madness. Don’t break with the N.I.C.E. They’ll be after you. How can Dimble save you? You’ll be killed.” A third implored him not, even now, to write off as a total loss his hard won position in the Inner Ring at Belbury; there must, must be some middle course. A fourth recoiled from the idea of ever seeing Dimble again: the memory of every tone Dimble had used caused horrible discomfort. And he wanted Jane, and he wanted to punish Jane for being a friend of Dimble, and he wanted never to see Wither again, and he wanted to creep back and patch things up with Wither somehow. He wanted to be perfectly safe and also very nonchalant and daring—to be admired for manly honesty among the Dimbles and yet also for realism and knowingness at Belbury—to have two more large whiskies and also to think out everything very clearly and collectedly. And it was beginning to rain and his head was beginning to ache again. Damn the whole thing! Why had he such a rotten heredity? Why had his education been so ineffective? Why was the system of society so irrational? Why was his luck so bad?

     A man is no less a slave for being unable to name his master.

     I’ve gone on for quite a while here, including a set of lengthy citations from Lewis’s best novel. But the point is an important one: it can be severely damaging, even fatal, to make a moral-ethical decision for a teleological reason.

     He who is conscious of the real reasons for his decisions is in little danger of this. But few of us are always perfectly aware of our reasons for our decisions. For my part, I discovered quite recently that I’d been doing something others deem admirable specifically for that reason, rather than because it was the right thing to do – which it was. I’m not sure what course to take now: not because my desire for others’ good opinion has waned, but because having entered that course of action for the wrong reason has already had deleterious effects, and my need is to determine whether they’d be best mitigated by pulling back or by “staying the course.” It’s a tougher choice than you might imagine.

     Which is the reason for my one and only resolution for the Year of Our Lord 2018: Always strive to know with maximum clarity in which category – moral-ethical or teleological – a choice belongs, and once ascertained, make the choice on that basis and no other.

     Gnothi seauton, the Greek philosophers liked to say. Know yourself. It’s a great gift that we have the capacity for it. It’s a tragedy how often we fail to use it.

     May you all have a Happy and Blessed New Year. Go easy on the junk food tonight. Salt hangovers are even worse than the alcohol kind. Take it from one who knows.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Words Have Meanings Part 2: Irrelevancies

     During his eight (groan) years in the White House, Barack Hussein Obama became notorious for his “run out the clock” approach to questions he didn’t want to answer plainly. His few interviews with opposition journalists are particularly revealing in that regard. Bret Baier, for example, strained mightily to get Obama off his chosen tangent and to respond to the question asked, often by baldly interrupting his soliloquies. Obama’s response was always of the “if you’d just let me finish” variety. But of course he never would answer the original question as it was asked.

     The tactic didn’t originate with Obama, though he’s currently its foremost practitioner. A casual sampling of Congressional committee interviews of subpoenaed witnesses would confirm that it’s the most widely practiced rhetorical technique in politics: if the query is unfriendly, “respond” by talking about something else as if it were perfectly relevant. Candidates on the stump do it, too.

     A determined interviewer could reveal the insincerity and dissimulation of the typical politician fairly easily. Bret Baier did with Obama. But the typical interviewer whose specialty is politics has a higher priority than exposing and illuminating the facts. His career depends upon the “get:” i.e., his ability to entice high-profile interviewees into his den. Should the political class generally become aware that Joe Interviewer is adept at cutting through rhetorical obfuscations, Joe would soon be unable to secure interviews with members of the political class. His career would crash and burn. Can’t have that.

     The matter becomes particularly plain when one notes how seldom an interviewer – private or public sector – asks a question to which the only appropriate answer is either “yes” or “no.”

     Among the reasons it’s better to “watch what they do” than to listen to what they say is the mind-numbing effect of what they say: interviewers and interviewees alike. Yet the circumlocuitous, never-converging exchanges of political interviewers and prominent politicians go on. Strangely, people keep watching them, though perhaps fewer than before.

     If Donald Trump is to make any enduring changes in the American political environment, one might come through his plainspokenness. He does answer questions directly, which is part of what irritates the rest of the political class – and its journalistic remora – about him. His selection of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is also remarkably direct for a presidential spokesperson, is in keeping with his personal style.

     Journalists dislike getting straight answers almost as much as politicians dislike giving them. They cannot be “reinterpreted.” It’s well-nigh impossible to twist a simple, direct answer into something a journalist can use to infer a contrary intention. The frustration is part of what moves opposition commentators – i.e., the majority of opinion-mongers at this time – to denounce Trump with outright slanders about “callousness,” “white nationalism,” and the like. As they can’t draw the inferences they’d prefer from Trump’s statements, they simply “cut to the chase.”

     Irrelevancies offered and tolerated in interviews are bad enough. There’s worse: the deliberate, deceitful insertion of things never said into others’ mouths.

     Consider one of the most successful recent gambits from the burgeoning “white identity” movement:

     These images and associated paraphernalia are driving the anti-white racialists and their adherents completely BLEEP!ing nuts. Their simplicity suffices to get a strong point across. Their gleeful passive-aggression and their gentle dig into the sides of those who seek to cultivate unearned guilt among white people are maximally infuriating to those who’ve specialized in hurling accusations of racism among whites.

     There is no direct counter to them. Therefore, the black racialists and other hucksters dependent upon evoking unearned guilt among whites must tell lies: they must insist that “It’s okay to be white” is itself a racist statement. Never mind that if “white” were replaced with “black” or “Asian,” whites would be expected to let the assertion pass unchallenged. To do otherwise, of course, would be “racist.”

     Several persons have launched similar attacks against politicians and aspirants who proclaim an “America First” policy. Apparently for the government of the United States to put the interests of the United States above those of other nations is somehow “racist.” But isn’t that exactly what the governments of all the other nations of the world are expected to do? What would their citizens think of them were they to put America’s interests ahead of those of their own nation?

     The subject is large, and beyond exhaustive treatment in a brief essay by a weary blogger. However, I believe I’ve covered the heart of it. If words are to have exact and reliable meanings, they must be accorded those meanings regardless of what anyone thinks of the utterer. The introduction of irrelevancies – time was, this was called changing the subject and was held in contempt by decent persons – into such disputes is an obfuscatory technique to which Americans must become sensitive. It’s been used to turn their heads, and sometimes to turn them off completely, by far too many persons for far too long.

100 racist things.

From Tucker Carlson:

"Keeping Track: 100 Racist Things." By Vanderleun, American Digest, 12/27/17.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Words Have Meanings Part 1

     As I sit here, contemplating the exact direction in which I’d like to steer this essay, I find myself reflecting on...myself.

     Time was, I was a working physicist. Not for long; I threw it over in favor of software engineering while I was still quite young. I did so because I found the work uninteresting owing to its narrow focus, and the academic environment uncongenial owing to the extremes to which people in academia tend to fight over trivia. However, the experience was valuable, perhaps more for one reason than all others combined: It revealed to me how readily people, including people who claim to be concerned with accuracy and precision, will resort to ambiguities and imprecisions that amount to deliberate deceit if it will get them what they want.

     That realization would elicit the central driving influence of my life. I became all but obsessive about saying exactly what I meant. In any discussion of anything whatsoever, I strove to use the correct word, allowing for topical and contextual considerations, that would most accurately, precisely, and clearly capture my intended meaning. I was equally at pains to grasp exactly what my interlocutor meant by every word he employed.

     Suffice it to say that it didn’t make me a big hit at parties.

     Nevertheless, I maintained that practice. I’ve maintained it to this very day. Senility and its ravages to the side as exceptions, I doubt I’ll ever willingly abandon it.

     As you could surely have guessed, the emotional infrastructure that supports that attitude has more than one effect.

     I purely despise people who deliberately twist or mangle the meanings of words. I particularly despise polemicists who do so to “make a point,” to win (or escape) an argument, or to con a listener into believing or doing something he wouldn’t otherwise believe or do. They are beneath contempt. Indeed, they’re responsible for a huge fraction of our contemporary sociopolitical fractiousness.

     Words are our fundamental tools of both communication and thought. They deserve all the respect and defense we could possibly give them. When I discover that I’ve encountered a word-rapist, I hurry to put as much distance between us as much for his sake as for mine. It makes political exchanges difficult, sometimes hazardous.

     One of the symptoms of our steadily hardening political division is the increasing frequency with which words are abused in such exchanges.

     While it’s accurate to say that some word-rape occurs on the Right – no sector of politics is free from it – the major (and most gleeful) practitioners of word abuse are on the Left. Indeed, I would argue that the Left could not have made the political gains it’s accrued over the century past without its extensive abuse of the English language. George Orwell had his take on the subject; this essay is mine.

     “I’m going to say something really crazy: I believe in science. Climate change is real and we have a moral obligation to protect this Earth for our children and grandchildren.” – Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, in a recent “tweet.”

     There are two kinds of people from whom an utterance of the above sort could come:

  • Idiots;
  • Villains.

     Miss Warren, a thoroughly odious figure whose political ascent has had me worried ever since she defeated Scott Brown, is not an idiot. The implication is left as an exercise for the reader.

     But let’s not hurry away. Let’s look closely at the statement, the specific words used, and the particular abuses Miss Warren has committed in it.

     “I’m going to say something really crazy.” What is the meaning of crazy? Doesn’t it mean psychotic, deranged, or in a mental state of unreality? If Miss Warren’s statement was accurate – i.e., if it accurately described her mental state – would there be any point in listening to her on any subject? If her statement was inaccurate, what was her purpose in making it? Satire?

     “I believe in science.” Seldom has so much semantic noise been crammed into a four word sentence. To believe is to accept some proposition without demanding a rigorous proof thereof. It’s only appropriate in discussing statements about specific facts, or propositions about cause and effect. But in what does Miss Warren believe? “Science.” But what is science? It’s a compressed way of referring to scientific method: a process by which one can investigate the causal mechanisms of the natural world. One cannot “believe” in “science;” one can only practice it or dismiss it.

     “Climate change is real.” Meaning what? That the climate – i.e., the general meteorological tendencies of the atmosphere that recent years have led us to expect – is changing? No one disputes that. Earth’s climate has been changing since it acquired its atmosphere. This is a palmed-card technique: a way of invoking catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, a tendentious, heavily politicized hypothesis about Mankind’s influence on Earth’s climate that’s unsupported by objective evidence.

     “We have a moral obligation to protect this Earth for our children and grandchildren.” Again, meaning what? Where does morality come into it? Morality is a useful concept only in discussing individuals’ treatment of other individuals. There’s no moral component to one’s decision to make, use, buy, or sell something unless violence, theft, or fraud are involved. Moreover, the “children and grandchildren” might not exist. At any rate, fewer are being produced than at any previous point in history.

     Word rape from beginning to end, all of it in service to a political position for which there is no evidentiary support and precious little interest from the American public.

     As one who writes fiction as well as these interminable op-eds, I need to maintain and manage two contrasting attitudes toward words and verbal expression. Fiction writers must occasionally resort to various “devices:” similes, metaphors, metonymies, images, coinages, synecdoches, hyperboles, and litotes. But the fictioneer’s mission varies from that of the expositor: to evoke mental pictures in the reader’s mind, to cause him to feel particular emotions, and to bind him to the story being told. The expositor is expected to “keep to the firmest footing:” i.e., to express himself with the greatest degree of accuracy, precision, and clarity the language will support. Keeping those missions separate involves keeping the linguistic practices appropriate to them separate.

     The expositor must not abuse the words he employs. He must not engage in rococo phrasings or verbal tarantellas that dazzle the listener so he can change the subject without being caught at it. He must be an honest vendor of both information and implication. To do otherwise is to corrupt.

     A great many persons engaged in political polemics have consciously embraced corruption.

     More anon.

Chickens coming home to roost department.

The Trump administration has made it crystal clear that they are prepared to call the bluff and a nuclear armed North Korea, especially one with ICMB’s capable of striking major U.S. cities, will not be allowed. [James] Rickards continues:
We relied on deterrence, containment, sanctions, diplomacy, and eventually arms treaties to avoid a nuclear war. Why not do the same with Kim?

President Trump’s National Security Advisor, General H. R. McMaster answered that question at our Washington conclave also.

He said acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea is ‘unacceptable’. The U.S. will stop North Korea from acquiring its nuclear capability in the first place rather than learning to live it.[1]

Regarding “a coming war between the U.S. and North Korea, probably in the next twelve weeks” Mr. Rickards asks:
“How can I be so sure about the timing? The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency told me.”[2]
This is from Rickards who is someone it’s safe to say is a connected man and he’s quoting some very senior officials as wired into the national security establishment as anyone could hope to be short of being a New York billionaire.

Let’s just file all this under “be that as it may” for now and try to reach for a little perspective. Successive American presidents, not some formless “administrations,” have kicked this N. Korea can down the road at every opportunity and Bill Clinton even unburdened himself in 1994 of a speech about N. Korea that was a boat load of horse feathers from “hi” to “goodbye.”

This was state of the art U.S. military and diplomatic thinking when the U.S. still had pretty much a free hand and Chinese objections to stern American measures could very likely have been dismissed in the interest of overriding American national interests.

HowEVer, it was the stuff of school girl “dear diary” imaginings and since even earlier we’ve done our best to (1) transplant industrial America to China, a communist dictatorship and strategic competitor and (2), thanks to Bill Clinton, improve their missile guidance systems. How much of that missile technology China transferred to N. Korea is anybody’s guess, but I’m guessing ever damn last bit of it. That Bill! Such a strategic thinker. Bill had us charge off into the Balkans to vindicate some vital American interest or another but even that was a failure as Hillary had to brave sniper fire during a visit many years later. So much for pacification.

Europe has decided to turn itself into a third-world African and Muslim hole with vast strategic consequences to the U.S., not least because France might become an Islamic country and its nuclear weapons would fall into Muslim hands. No one loses sleep over this in Foggy Bottom and no one in the U.S. government, to my knowledge, has said “boo” to the Eurotwits about this. No, the Great Drift into Irrelevance placidly continues. Of course, we know why no alarm was raised. It’s because we’re busy importing our own millions of savage and murderous Africans and Muslims ourselves.

We also embarked on an open-ended Dudley Do-Right campaign to straighten out Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Ukraine, all or most of this costing us in the neighborhood of $250 million a day. We and the other morons in NATO effected the murder of Gaddafi who was doing great work to keep the migrant hordes from flooding Europe. Now we have a failed state with tens of thousands of pointless deaths, and the migrant flood.

What the U.S. thought would be the end result of its meddling in Ukraine is anybody’s guess but I’m guessing it didn’t include a referendum in Crimea that caused much heartburn in the ranks of those of the Deep State and neocon persuasion. And we’ve waged aggressive and unconstitutional war on Syria for no announced purpose, let alone an honorable one. Assad, Gaddafi, and Mubarak are precisely the kind of leaders a sane U.S. policy would want to see in place in treacherous and confused M.E. but the full weight of U.S. power was used against them.

At home, the federal and state governments and the MSM cannot bring themselves to say a discouraging word about Islam and the absurdity of its presence on any Western shores,[3] perseverate about the holy sacrament of foreigner and more foreigners taking jobs from Americans, and cower before resentful blacks, hysterical feminist and kiddie street fighters. Electoral rolls are obviously padded and “one dollar one vote” reigns as the supreme operating principle.

So here we are at an inflection point where we’ve spent decades weakening ourselves, strengthening our enemies, undermining natural allies, ignoring international law, ignoring the Constitution, spinning our wheels in pointless and immoral foreign wars, worshiping homosexuals and horribly sexually confused people, attacking free speech, building the surveillance state, and making ourselves the laughing stock of the world with our pretensions of America “the indispensable nation” and the nation for whose “leadership” the world hungers.

We're the world’s preeminent military power, so we’re told, which poses the question of the hour, to wit, "For what purpose are we going to use this power now that we are faced with something that really is heart-stopping? Or can the can be kicked down the road some more? Does nuclear nonproliferation mean anything and does it matter that a vicious communist aberration nation is on the verge of presenting a threat to a United States of America hitherto unreachable by insignificant national jokes?

After decades of utterly un-serious foreign and domestic policies, are we capable of embracing serious ones? We spent and spend untold millions to “rid” the world of mild autocrats but what will we now do when it’s an honest-to-God, vicious communist dictatorship that, arguably, poses a real existential threat? Maybe the tough-talking Her Nikkiness will draw on her vast strategic insights gained as governor of S. Carolina and fan of the Home Shopping Channel and show us the way.

[1] "Intelligence Insider Warns Of Imminent War: 'Likely In The Next 12 Weeks...'." By Mac Slavo via, ZeroHedge, 12/29/17.
[2] Id.
[3] Samir Khan, a US citizen and Al Qaeda member . . . : “I am a traitor to America because my religion requires me to be. We pledge to wage jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our Lord as bearers of Islam.” Quoted in “Tariq Ramadan: 'Are You Swiss or a Muslim?'” By Michael Copeland published at "Tariq Ramadan: The Artful Dodger of Oxford." Gates of Vienna, 12/28/17 (formatting omitted).

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Download This Book!

It's short - 35 pages - and is called Mapping the Swamp. Send a copy of the pdf to all your friends.

It details just how big the job of Draining the Swamp will be, and - did I mention it - is FREE.

The Middle Of The Octave Is Where I Always Go Flat...

     ...which means you get another of those dreaded “assorted” posts today. Apologies, Gentle Reader; I’m just not “up” for anything more ambitious.

1. The Kwanzaa Scam.

     The great Mike Hendrix reminds us about the provenance of this supposed “celebration:”

     Ron Karenga (aka Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga) invented the seven-day feast (Dec. 26-Jan. 1) in 1966, branding it a black alternative to Christmas. The idea was to celebrate the end of what he considered the Christmas-season exploitation of African Americans.
     Now, the point: There is no part of Kwanzaa that is not fraudulent. Begin with the name. The celebration comes from the Swahili term “matunda yakwanza,” or “first fruit,” and the festival’s trappings have Swahili names — such as “ujima” for “collective work and responsibility” or “muhindi,” which are ears of corn celebrants set aside for each child in a family.
     Unfortunately, Swahili has little relevance for American blacks. Most slaves were ripped from the shores of West Africa. Swahili is an East African tongue.
     To put that in perspective, the cultural gap between Senegal and Kenya is as dramatic as the chasm that separates, say, London and Tehran. Imagine singing “G-d Save the Queen” in Farsi, and you grasp the enormity of the gaffe.
     Worse, Kwanzaa ceremonies have no discernible African roots. No culture on earth celebrates a harvesting ritual in December, for instance, and the implicit pledges about human dignity don’t necessarily jibe with such still-common practices as female circumcision and polygamy. The inventors of Kwanzaa weren’t promoting a return to roots; they were shilling for Marxism. They even appropriated the term “ujima,” which Julius Nyerere cited when he uprooted tens of thousands of Tanzanians and shipped them forcibly to collective farms, where they proved more adept at cultivating misery than banishing hunger.
     Even the rituals using corn don’t fit. Corn isn’t indigenous to Africa. Mexican Indians developed it, and the crop was carried worldwide by white colonialists.

     But wait; there’s more! This Karenga clown doesn’t seem the type to deserve anyone’s attention:

     The man who created the holiday, Maulana Karenga was convicted in 1971 of torturing two women who were members of US (United Slaves), a black nationalist cult he had founded. A May 14, 1971, article in the Los Angeles Times related the testimony of one of the women:
     “Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis’ mouth and placed against Miss Davis’ face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said.”

     I don’t care what race you claim to be; that doesn’t sound like a guy whose lead I’d follow.

2. A Celebration Of Sorrow.

     Today, December 28, commemorates the most horrifying consequence of the birth of Jesus Christ:


     The Holy Innocents (1st c.) are the children mentioned in the account of Jesus' birth in Matthew's Gospel (2:16-18). When the Magi came to Jerusalem to find and adore the Baby Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews, King Herod requested that they inform him of the Child's location under the pretense of offering Him adoration, too. After paying the Child homage and offering Him their gifts, the Wise Men were warned in a dream not to betray Jesus' location, and departed for their home country by another route. Meanwhile the Holy Family was warned by an Angel to flee into Egypt. King Herod fell into a jealous rage over the Magi's failure to report back to him. He ordered all the baby boys aged two years and under to be killed, according to the appearance of the Bethlehem Star to the Three Wise Men, in an attempt to kill the Baby Jesus. These baby boys died not only for Christ, but in his stead. The Church venerates them as martyrs. It is uncertain how many children were killed, whether a small number, or in the thousands. The Latin Church instituted the feast of the Holy Innocents in the fifth century. The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome is believed to possess the bodies of several of the Holy Innocents. Their feast day is commemorated on December 28th.

     This aspect of the Christmas season is as important to remember as the birth of the Savior. It underscores the lust and savagery to which they who value power above all other things are prone.

3. Ideologies And Confusions About Them.

     Courtesy of the seemingly indefatigable Charles Hill, I made my way to this blog, maintained by film critic Sheila O’Malley, commemorating the late, great Robert Conquest:

     Conquest was a very important part of my political education, along with other “apostates” like George Orwell, Rebecca West and Arthur Koestler. I have no political “ideology.” Not really. I distrust ideology. I distrust Orthodoxy. I distrust GROUPS. I’m great at parties! If I had a political “ideology” it would be something along the lines of the Hippocratic Oath, I guess. But the one constant in my sparse personal political system is that Man should never be trusted with power. Neither should Woman. Either. Neither should be trusted with power.

     To which I replied:

     You say here:
     I distrust ideology. I distrust Orthodoxy.

     But these are two separate things. They should not be conflated.

     An ideology is a model for how some aspect of human nature operates. Within its proper domain, it might well be highly useful: i.e., its predictions might be more accurate than those of other ideologies applied to that domain. Orthodoxy is a decision by someone to accept the prescriptions and proscriptions of some doctrine in whole and in part and to refuse to question them. But the refusal to question elevates the doctrine to a faith – and an ideology, like a scientific theory, loses the confidence (and much of the interest) of rational minds at that point.

     “Question “even the existence of god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” – Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to a nephew.

     Continuing on, you say:

     But the one constant in my sparse personal political system is that Man should never be trusted with power. Neither should Woman. Either. Neither should be trusted with power.

     If you’re serious about this and mean this as it stands — i.e., if you assert that this model is applicable to human societies and functions better than others in that domain — you have asserted your confidence, though perhaps not your orthodoxy, in an ideology. It’s called anarchism.

     You see, we can’t really avoid ideologies. They’re the product of goal selection plus rational thought, tempered by the gathering of available evidence. It’s when we cease to look critically at them and try to find better ones that trouble really starts. But this is far too large a subject for a comment at anyone’s blog.

     Miss O’Malley immediately accused me of “mansplaining.” Well, some people are just like that, I suppose.

4. Migrants?

     Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, a.k.a. Pope Francis, does terrible harm to the Church and the Faith nearly every time he opens his mouth:

     Vatican City (AFP) – Pope Francis was Monday to give his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas address, after urging the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics not to ignore the plight of migrants “driven from their land” because of leaders willing to shed “innocent blood”.
     “So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” the Argentine pontiff, himself the grandson of Italian migrants, told worshippers at Christmas Eve mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
     “We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”

     Robert Spencer replies thus:

     Yes, of course, today’s Muslim migrants are exactly like Joseph and Mary. Exactly. Jihad Watch reader Mark says, “Somehow I missed the part about how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to plunder, rape and steal from the residents there…”
     All of the jihadis who murdered 130 people in Paris in November 2015 had just entered Europe as refugees. Is it racism and xenophobia to recall that in February 2015, the Islamic State boasted it would soon flood Europe with as many as 500,000 refugees? Or that the Lebanese Education Minister said in September 2015 that there were 20,000 jihadis among the refugees in camps in his country?
     Meanwhile, 80% of migrants who have come to Europe claiming to be fleeing the war in Syria aren’t really from Syria at all. So why are they claiming to be Syrian and streaming into Europe, and now the U.S. as well? An Islamic State operative gave the answer when he boasted in September 2015, shortly after the migrant influx began, that among the flood of refugees, 4,000 Islamic State jihadis had already entered Europe. He explained their purpose: “It’s our dream that there should be a caliphate not only in Syria but in all the world, and we will have it soon, inshallah.” These Muslims were going to Europe in the service of that caliphate: “They are going like refugees,” he said, but they were going with the plan of sowing blood and mayhem on European streets. As he told this to journalists, he smiled and said, “Just wait.”

     The case for dismissing Bergoglio as an anti-pope gets stronger with each passing day.

     That’s all for today, Gentle Reader. Have a serene day...if you can after reading the above. I feel soiled by some of it, but, well, I suspect that few of you come here for the jokes and cat videos.

Putin on a uni-polar world and disdain for international law.

However, what is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making.

It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority.

Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.

I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. . . . What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilisation.

* * * *

Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. . . .

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?[1]

Who indeed?

[1] "Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy." By Vladimir Putin, 2/10/07. Wikisource.

The leftist assault on the American ballot box.

We've heard a lot about George Soros this weekend, and at the trial in Broward County, Soros intervened in my case to help defend the dirty voter rolls. They hired these lawyers from a firm called Jenner Block, from an organization called Dimos -- al these, put an "n" at the end, right, "demons" -- and the Advancement Project, Project Vote, all these Soros organizations. There were not enough seats in the federal courtroom for all of the Soros lawyers opposing us. There were 12. The bailiff had to bring in more seats at counsel table because there were so many Soros lawyers. That's the world that Obama helped create.
[1] "J. Christian Adams: What's Happening at Justice?" By J. Christian Adams, Front Page Magazine, 12/13/17 (emphasis added).

Obama’s love affair with communists.

I’ve harped on this a lot. Obama had a communist mentor as a youth, hired Van Jones the commie for his White House staff, chose as his closest adviser in the White House a woman with a commie father, father-in-law, and grandfather, and started his political career in the living room of two communist terrorists. Sen. Alice J. Palmer, was Obama’s mentor in Illinois politics, endorsing him as her successor in the Illinois senate. Palmer was “an Executive Board member of the Communist Party USA-dominated U.S. Peace Council from 1983-1985."[1]

Now this from J. Christian Adams in a speech he gave at the Restoration Weekend:

But first the good news. I put at the top of the list the fact that Eric Holder's war on cops is over. It's done. . . . There are so many fanciful, farcical things that are totally true that you can't believe it's actually happening, and [my book] gives you an insight into how nuts some of these people were. For example, when I was at the Justice Department under Obama, they actually hired an organization, Northeastern University, to do police sensitivity training. Now I'm not done with this. One of the consultants working for this organization to do police sensitivity training -- and by the way, they charged you, the taxpayers, a million dollars to produce these materials. One of the women who worked for this organization was Angela Davis. Do you remember this? And of course Angela Davis is [a] communist . . . , but this is the sort of world we lived in under Eric Holder, where federal tax money was moving to an organization, that has as part of its staff Angela Davis, to train police officers. That's the world we've left under President Obama.[2]
If Obama didn't personally set up that training contract, you can be sure he and Eric Holder had a good laugh about it. We aren’t close to knowing the full extent of the communist penetration of the federal government during the Obama years.

On a related matter, I take Obama's studied refusal to salute properly when the national anthem was played as a sure sign of Obama’s primary allegiance. Or his complete lack of any allegiance to America. Take your pick. He did this – refuse to show respect – as a candidate in his first presidential campaign and also as president. Here’s a thought: If in 2017 you won’t show respect for the country when the national anthem is being played, you’re not making a principled statement about a specific problem that needs to be addressed. You’re showing contempt for America itself. You’re showing sympathy for the agenda that Obama had when he too, figuratively, took a knee. An agenda that has the stink of communism on it. Communism, the foulest, most murderous political force in the world. Bar none.

[1]  "Alice Palmer." KeyWiki.
[2] "J. Christian Adams: What's Happening at Justice?" By J. Christian Adams, Front Page Magazine, 12/13/17 (emphasis added; allegation about Davis’s possible criminal culpability omitted).

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Political Argument

     In most instances, to ask a negotiator “who’s winning” is as inappropriate as to ask who’s winning a marriage. If you ask that question about your marriage, you have already lost the most important negotiation – the one about what kind of game to play, about the way you deal with each other and your shared and differing interests. – Roger Fisher and William L. Ury, Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

     Please keep the above in mind as you read the following, which first appeared at the late, deeply lamented Palace of Reason.

Part One: What is required to conduct an argument?

     Argument presupposes a few things, such as a common language and a respect for the public meanings of its words. You have to think about it for a while before you come upon the most important commonalities it requires.

     The first is that the arguers -- the participants in whatever debate is taking place -- have a right to be there, and to argue. To some this seems a trivial matter, but I've seen several discussions over public policy and such where one side claimed the other had no right to put forth its position, for one reason or another. For some chilling examples, try Jean-Francois Revel's book, The Flight From Truth.

     Argument also presupposes that the participants share a moral basis. Imagine the following: You've managed to conjure the ghost of Adolf Hitler, and you ask him: “Herr Hitler, why did you murder all those Jews?”, and he replies, “Because it was intrinsically right.” What argument could you make to him then?

     Argument presupposes that the arguers are honest about their priorities. One of the Left's nastiest tricks is changing their statement of priorities when it's shot out from under them. For example: Marx's original argument for socialism was that it was the only way to insure that the fruits of the Industrial Revolution were made accessible to all men, and not just to the few who controlled the “means of production.” When modern day socialists were forced to admit that socialism guarantees uniform poverty, with the exception of a ruling class that gets to live like kings, they changed their stated priorities to goals that had not yet been proved impossible of achievement by socialist means. As each new priority fell, they shifted to a fresh one. They're still doing it today.

     Star political polemicist Michael Emerling emphasizes the importance of isolating the issue -- that is, of finding out what's really the top priority for your argumentative opponent. His technique gives rise to questions such as this: “You say we can't allow citizens to carry guns because it would increase the murder rate. Suppose for a moment that I could prove that that was not that case -- that murder rates would FALL as a result of widespread concealed weapons possession. Would you still be against it?”

     Thoughts, anyone? What special asymmetries have YOU encountered during argument, which blasted a hole in your attempt to pursue a controversy by reasonable means?

     Part Two: How to argue without damaging yourself.

     Argument has costs, sometimes considerable ones. There's a terrible frustration, and an accompanying weariness, that comes with fruitless argument endlessly repeated. It can make one lapse into quietism, even solitude, in the conviction that they who populate the world beyond one's door are not reachable by rational means.

     Edmund Burke's famous statement that “All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” is probably the best known of all moral exhortations. Few would disagree. Yet many do nothing. Why?

     Because they're too worn out, or too frightened, to carry on. Because the process of trying to argue for their convictions has laid a new conviction atop the others: that rational processes cannot affect human opinions or human behavior.

     Don't be one of these unfortunates. Here's some armor for the soul, so that you can carry on the struggle and endure its frustrations without taking a mortal wound:

  1. Know when to walk away. He who will not agree on the meanings of words, who will not stand fast to his stated priorities, or who doesn't share a common morality with you is a hopeless case, as far as argument goes. Cut your losses -- courteously! -- and move on. “Live to fight another day.”
  2. Think of yourself as a sales representative for your convictions, not the embodiment of them. When someone assails your beliefs, it hurts less if you don't take the assault as an assault upon you personally... especially if that's what it really is.
  3. Give yourself credit for everything you do right, and for everything you do well. If you fail to persuade your argumentative partner, nevertheless you can congratulate yourself on having argued well and courteously, on having been intellectually honest, and on having granted the other person the presumption of integrity.
  4. Don't dwell on your failures. It's possible that nothing you could have said or done would have made a difference in how a particular debate turned out. People are ornery.
  5. Remember that your personal moral standing depends entirely and only on what you do. You don't need to persuade others to your views to be able to face yourself in the mirror; you just have to live right.

     Part Three: The major metaphors for argument, and when they apply.

     There are two metaphors for an argument, drawn from opposed spheres of human conduct: the combat metaphor and the seduction metaphor.

     In the combat metaphor, each contestant sees the other as the enemy, whose position is something to be overrun and destroyed. Obviously, there is no room for “converting” the enemy, for transforming him into an ally. Nor do we make room for what the enemy wants in our list of priorities.

     In the seduction metaphor, each contestant sees the other as a potential asset, a proponent to be gained for one's own views. Seduction is persuasion, and you can only persuade another human being with what he desires as the bait. Therefore, the other's position is acknowledged, accommodated when possible, and used as part of the persuasive strategy. The last thing we contemplate in this case is doing harm to the other, or destroying his position wholesale.

     If you think you know where I'm going after this, you're almost certainly wrong, so keep reading.

     Most people don't come to their political opinions by reasoning them out. Most political opinions are consequences of other decisions and relationships. Sometimes we inherit our politics from our parents. Sometimes we adopt them as part of the price of entry to a certain social circle. And sometimes we choose them because they'll get us positions of power and privilege.

     In the cases above, “pure” political argument will likely fail to produce changes. When your opponent holds his “opinions” not because he really believes them, but because they'll lead him to something else he values, you're not really arguing politics. To persuade him, you'll have to find out what he really wants, and deal with that.

     What if what he really wants is power? Over you and yours? Can you still hope to persuade him? If your answer is “no,” as is mine, then the combat metaphor is appropriate, because you're much less concerned with persuading him (impossible) than with nullifying the threat he represents. Keep firmly in mind what you hope to gain. That will usually be the good opinion of third parties who are listening to the argument, not the good opinion of your adversary.

     Other things being equal, I'd rather seduce than destroy. So I always look first for what my argumentative partner really wants, and I look to see if I can offer it to him. If I can, subject to moral and economic constraints, then I try to persuade him. If I can't, then I evaluate the threat he represents. Unless he's a power-seeker with real prospects, I usually walk away.

     This is the key to effective political argument: If you can offer your opponent what he wants, you have the prospect of a win-win outcome, a successful seduction. If what he wants and what you want are absolutely antithetical, this is impossible, and you'd better be carrying your saber... just in case he draws his, of course.

     With the above essay as a foundation, please consider the following questions:

  • On Part One: Which of the conditions cited in this section are currently being observed today, and which ones are currently being violated?
  • On Part Two: Have you ever felt yourself to be damaged by virtue of participating in a political argument? If so, what was the mechanism that damaged you?
  • On Part Three: In this section, consider seduction to be a rough synonym for negotiation. Is it possible, in your opinion, to conduct a negotiation-style argument with an advocate for the Left at this time? If not, why not?

     I’ll return to these subjects tomorrow.

The hypocritical, vindictive left.

“Comedy is dead, except for calling Donald Trump a Nazi,” said Rodney Lee Conover, a right-leaning comedian who got his start writing jokes for Rush Limbaugh.

* * * *

But the jokes go beyond Mr. Trump to include those who might have voted for him.

Samantha Bee was forced to issue an apology in March after mocking a Conservative Political Action Conference attendee for having “Nazi hair.” The target of her haircut joke had undergone radiation treatment for stage 4 brain cancer.[1] “There are no jokes anymore,” Mr. Conover said. “It’s just complete anger and rage.”

* * * *

“I was not prepared for the backlash [to a parody video mocking the left’s reaction to Hillary Clinton’s defeat],” Mr. [Steve] McGrew said. “I’ve felt it before as a conservative comic, but it was not nearly as bad until Trump got elected. I’ve been called a racist, Nazi, hate monger — and people are trying to interfere with my livelihood.”…[2]

The left cannot stand having its sanctimony and hypocrisy challenged. “Free speech” means nothing to the left. Angela Merkel’s crocodile tears over defending “European values” mean precisely the opposite – draconian punishment for dissent. The days of the Dutch providing safe haven to independent thinkers and Karl Marx having a season library card at the British Museum are long gone. Children will be taken from their parents in Germany for parental crimethink. In the U.S., the left bays at the heels of conservative thinkers and does their best to ruin them financially.

This is known as being part of the loyal opposition.

[1] Oops. BB.
[2] "Conservatives get canceled, liberals quit laughing: How Trump’s election killed comedy." By Jeff Mordock - The Washington Times, 12/24/17.

Hat tip: Gates of Vienna.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Solving The Tough Problems

     Well, ho-ho-ho and I hope you’ve all had the merriest of Christmases! As a lot of my Web colleagues have apparently decided to take the Christmas season off from their various publications, and as I haven’t penned an original piece these past few days and have begun to feel a bit “backed up” because of that, I figured I might as well throw a few hundred words at this dive. You know, to see if any of them will stick. But — you knew that was coming, didn’t you? – in keeping with the spirit of the season and my generally good mood, I’ll avoid the subjects of politics and public policy. The rest of the year is sufficient for that sort of bilious crap, isn’t it?

     So let’s see: what shall I address? The weather? No, no....My health? Good God, no! Unusual egg nog recipes? I think we’ve had enough of those for a bit.

     Nope. Got to be fiction.

     If there’s a most plaintive question I get from aspiring writers, it would be this one:

“How do I get started?

     (I’ll allow that there are a lot of possible replies to that one, some more sarcastic than others, e.g.: “You want to be a writer but you have no idea what to write? Hmmm...” However, as I’m a famously sympathetic soul with a heart of purest gold who absolutely lives for the chance to help others with their deepest and least tractable problems, I try to respond constructively. Believe me, a lot of thought goes into it.)

     Most of us who are entranced by fiction and the power it has to shape men’s thinking have some central passion we can call on to direct our efforts. In the usual case, such passions become our themes: the ideas that envelop, power, and shape the stories we write. Mine are Christianity and freedom. A writer who lacks such a passion has a harder time getting started.

     Nevertheless, there are substitutes. If you can become fascinated by any kind of human problem, you can find within yourself the fuel and the material with which to write. Caveat: It must be a tough problem. No one will take much interest in a story about how hard it was for you to decide which shirt to wear to work this morning.

     But stories are not about “problems,” per se; they’re about what people do about problems. More specifically, they’re about how addressing a problem changes the people confronted by it.

     The great problems fall into a total of categories:

  • The quest for love and acceptance;
  • Threats to one’s well-being, or the well-being of one’s loves;
  • The discovery of one’s own convictions, priorities, capacities, and limitations.

     That’s right, Gentle Reader: only three. A problem worth a reader’s time will always come from one of the above categories. As they’re very broad categories, that’s not a problem for most of us.

     The process by which a chosen problem becomes a viable story involves matching that problem to a character or characters:

  1. What sort of protagonist would find the problem both important and difficult?
  2. Does the problem require an antagonist?
  3. Does the problem require other characters with whom to interact?

     The first two questions define the Marquee Characters. The third one defines the Supporting Cast.

     The above concisely outlines my personal approach to beginning a new story, whether it be a short-short or a multi-volume saga. In the usual case, an appealing protagonist has been in the back of my head for some time, waiting for a problem worthy of him. Presently a problem occurs to me that works well against his definition. I choose from among the settings I prefer, combine the three, dress with subsidiary characters and a bit of sass, toss lightly, and serve.

     Innocents, my most recent novel, conforms to this pattern in all particulars. Larry Sokoloff had been “sitting on the shelf” since mid-2011, when I released Shadow of a Sword. The poor guy simply screamed for a story properly mated to his character as I’d envisioned it. It took some time for me to come up with a problem he could get his teeth into.

     As I wrote the above, an important codicil to my procedure became clear in my head: The problem must be one the protagonist must change and / or grow to solve. The solution can’t be obvious and immediately applicable, nor can it be in the protagonist’s “wheelhouse.” There are some interesting implications to that codicil.

     The first implication is that the protagonist will likely be frustrated at first. Change and growth are hard. They require both acceptance of one’s “incompleteness” and the willingness to put forth effort to extend oneself. Most persons who confront such a challenge do a lot of hairsplitting, rationalizing, and general farting around to avoid facing the problem directly.

     The second implication follows from the first one: The protagonist will expend a fair amount of his time and effort dealing with matters other than the central problem. In part that will be because those matters are more easily solved by a man with his abilities, but in equal or greater measure it will be to avoid confronting the core of the problem. That provides opportunities for interaction with Supporting Cast members, and time in which he can experience the sharpening tensions and conflicts the problem presents.

     The third implication is my favorite of the bunch: A problem the protagonist cannot solve easily with his defined abilities and resources makes room for reader misdirection. It allows the writer scope for mystery, and for the development and emergence of an “unsuspected hero:” the seemingly secondary character who contributes the real solution, whether or not he’s the one to implement it.

     Quite a lot of fiction conforms to this pattern. That the pattern is so common doesn’t render it banal. It’s common because of our common human nature. That’s just the way we are. It’s also common because reality is a real bitch...just in case you haven’t noticed.

     I wrote some time ago:

     The distribution of writers attempting the e-publication channel goes something like this:
  • 90% or more: Persons who cannot write and should not try.
  • ~7%: Persons with a fair command of English, but who have no stories to tell that anyone else would want to read.
  • ~2%: Persons with a fair command of English who have stories to tell, but whose styles and preconceptions are unsuited to telling them in a winning fashion.
  • ~1%: Capable storytellers, including a significant number who could crack the “traditional” publishing channels (or who already have).

     If I may go by my experiences in reading other indie writers’ stuff, that distribution remains accurate. But that doesn’t mean that you, Gentle Reader, should consider yourself pre-assigned to one of those bins and therefore predestined either to fail laughably or to experience roaring success. If you have a story bouncing around in your head, a little time to give it, and a taste for adventure, you have little to lose by trying to write it. The opportunities to garner a readership have never been better.

     So if you’ve been tempted to try fiction but have been wondering “Where do I start?” consider the above piece my Christmas present to you. No, no, don’t thank me; just buy, read, and review one of my books. I’ll take that quite happily.

     (Cross-posted at my fiction-promotion site.)

Monday, December 25, 2017

An Amazing Wonderful Christmas

This was a great Christmas. All of the things I am thankful for:

  • I was blessed to be able to travel to Cleveland and PA to visit family and friends.
  • My eldest daughter gave a most thoughtful gift, a session with a photo studio and all the family, including both hard copies and electronic versions
  • Sufficient time with my dear sister-in-law to remember why she is the most wonderful of my extended family - warm, funny, and so thoughtful
  • Fun with the whole family, in some old-fashioned games - The Game of Life and The Oregon Trail card game (GREAT fun!)
  • Seeing It's a Wonderful Life with my husband
  • Managing to spend two days in snow without an accident
  • The snow really is beautiful
  • But - WOW! It's really cold! Not just "South Carolina Cold" but - Cold!
  • I have amazing friends and family, both online and offline
That's all - I am so thankful and blessed by God.

Here's another thoughtful meme.

And It Came To Pass...

     And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

     And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

     And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

     And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

     And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

     And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

     And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

     And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

     And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

     And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

     And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

     And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

     [Luke 2:1-20]

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Gift Of Life... particularly poignant when the life at issue is someone else’s.

     Herewith, a textual condensation of a truly inspiring Twitter thread that brought tears to my eyes.

     For my twitter friends who actually care, i said one day I’d share the story of why I’m so damn pro life:
     I was about 22, i mostly lived to party. I’d get drunk every single night at my favorite dive bar before heading downtown to whatever party or bar was happening. I had nothing going for me. Dead end job, lived with my parents, barely working car. I probably would have wrapped it around a tree drunk if given a few more years.
     On my birthday, a bunch of my friends came out, and i got exceedingly drunk. I ran into an old fling, nice enough girl. We had a one night stand. A few months later, I’m working the night shift stocking shelves at a grocery store, i get a call. It’s he girl from my birthday night. She’s pregnant.
     Fuck. I make 9.50 a hour and work at home. What the hell am i supposed to do? Call a guy i know who is a pastor. He’s a pretty understanding dude. Asks me what i plan to do. Plan? I haven’t planned a thing in my life, i live in the moment. He asks me if i want a kid. “Hell no!” He gives me a card, says it’s a relationship counselor, tells me to call her and explain my situation.
     I called her, explained what was going on, and she had a reasonable proposal: why don’t you two come meet me, and we can talk about this in a environment that feels safe and open. I called Jenna (my wife now) i tell her that i want to try to be a good person and maybe we could talk about it with this person who is in expert in bad situations.
     First meeting comes and this lady is a little out there, but very understanding. Jenna and i are able to talk about what we want. We come to a tentative agreement that we should get to know each other.
     Jenna’s dad is a doctor, she’s had everything she’s ever wanted or needed in life. She’s a great student and college athlete. I’m a fuck up, my parents, while wealthy, have mostly cut me off and i have a awful relationship with them at this time.
     That poor woman is faced with a couple bad choices: hitch her wagon to a fucking deadbeat loser, get an abortion, give the baby up for adoption or keep the baby, cut me off and try to finish school as a single mom at 20. In the worst decision (later best) she’s ever made, she decided to go with me... a guy who stocks grocery stores, living in his parents basement with a car that barely runs.
     We started going to couples counseling twice a week, literally to get to know each other. Now Jenna had never dated anyone before. Suddenly this deadbeat scruffball shows up with her at all her family events, church and dinner on Sunday, the whole 9 yards.
     We eventually got to the point where we decided we wanted to keep the baby and maybe get married. This is about 4-5 months into the pregnancy. She hadn’t told her parents yet and she was starting to show a little. Everytime we tried to tell them, she’d have a panic attack and we wouldn’t tell them. Eventually it got to the point where someone had to do tell them or they would guess. Eventually i realized that i was going to have to tell them myself. I looked her dad up on his hospitals website and called his office. Asked to meet with him.
     Folks, i was not a brave man. I always took the easy way, i was a coward and a weasel. But i went to that fucking meeting and i broke that poor mans heart. He knew what i was, and now his beautiful, intelligent, sweet daughter was forever linked to me. Hardest thing I’ve ever done is telling a good man that i may have just ruined his daughters dreams, and his dreams for her.
     My FIL is a saint folks. He took it stoically. He didn’t yell or scream or kick my ass. He thanked me for telling him and said he would be in touch, that he had to talk to his family.
     Jenna called me a hour later. She was furious. Called me every name in the book and then some. She would have made @liars_never_win blush. Her mom called an hour later and asked me to come to dinner that night. Talk about walking into a bad situation. I went that night.
     It went great actually. Her family was supportive of her, wanted to make the best of the situation and offered to pay for the counseling we were going to (100 bucks a week is a lot when you make 9.50).
     After a month or two we decided we would get married. Jenna dropped out of school and started sewing decorative pillows to make a little money. I started to get my act together with work. I went from a shit employee to the best motherfucker they had. I completely turned my life around. I had no choice, it was sink or swim and i had to carry two others on my back. I worked my tail off and got some promotions and small raises.
     Out of the blue, my parents made us an astounding offer: they would buy a very modest house for us, and would defer payments for the first couple years of our marriage. We found a nice house in a safe neighborhood and they bought it. A month later Charlie was born.
     Charlie changed my world. From the moment i found out about him, he began to save me. Charlie transformed me from a directionless fuck up to a man with a purpose.
     Hindsight is great right? I didn’t see it then, but that tiny little human inside Jenna changed me more than any outside influence ever could. He made me be a man, he saved my life, and he brought the love of my life into my life.
     So why am i pro life? Because i understand that a small, seemingly insignificant and helpless human can have a profound impact on the world. Simply by existing a unborn child has the power to save someone, to radically change a life. And Charlie didn’t just save me, he brought Jenna and i together, and through that came Henry and Annie, two more wonderful amazing people who will have a huge impact on their world.
     A life is never a mistake! The power in a life to save others is immense. It may not be clear at the time, but in time it becomes clear. Charlie saved my life. I would never want someone to lose that amazing chance.
     Side note for those curious: Jenna’s pillow business took off, and what used to help feed us, now helps pay for the kids school, and our house that we bought with our own money. I worked my way up through a factory into a supervisory position, and now manage a factory of 200.
     My relationship with my parents has never been better. I love my inlaws so much. Jenna and i are able to help others in need. I can’t imagine where i would be if we had choose abortion. Abortion is an evil thing.

     With the exception of a couple of periods added at the ends of sentences, that's exactly as it appears in the cited Twitter thread. Note especially this stunner of an admission:

     He [baby Charlie] made me be a man.

     If only more unintentional fathers-to-be felt that way.